Interpretations of CEO public apologies for the banking crisis: Attributions of credit, blame and responsibility

Owen Hargie, Karyn Stapleton, Dennis Tourish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

This article analyses the public testimony of four banking CEOs to the Banking Crisis Inquiry of the Treasury Committee of the UK House of Commons in 2009. Utilizing a discursive and interpretive approach, we explore how they attributed responsibility and blame for the crisis through the medium of public apologies. A number of taxonomies of apology are employed to provide an interpretive framework for the analysis. We conclude that the CEO discourse is characterized by expressions of regret, attempts to articulate alignment with others affected by the crisis and dissociation from the events being scrutinized, in order to avoid direct culpability for the crisis and invoke instead the spectre of impersonal global events which mitigates personal responsibility. We therefore characterize the discourse studied as an example of apology avoidance, and consider the constraints on apology which senior CEOs evidently feel they face.
LanguageEnglish
Pages721-742
JournalOrganization
Volume17
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2010

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Taxonomies
Apology
Chief executive officer
Credit
Attribution
Banking crisis
Responsibility
Discourse
Interpretive

Cite this

@article{d77c375233244a3ea66485d163c642b5,
title = "Interpretations of CEO public apologies for the banking crisis: Attributions of credit, blame and responsibility",
abstract = "This article analyses the public testimony of four banking CEOs to the Banking Crisis Inquiry of the Treasury Committee of the UK House of Commons in 2009. Utilizing a discursive and interpretive approach, we explore how they attributed responsibility and blame for the crisis through the medium of public apologies. A number of taxonomies of apology are employed to provide an interpretive framework for the analysis. We conclude that the CEO discourse is characterized by expressions of regret, attempts to articulate alignment with others affected by the crisis and dissociation from the events being scrutinized, in order to avoid direct culpability for the crisis and invoke instead the spectre of impersonal global events which mitigates personal responsibility. We therefore characterize the discourse studied as an example of apology avoidance, and consider the constraints on apology which senior CEOs evidently feel they face.",
author = "Owen Hargie and Karyn Stapleton and Dennis Tourish",
note = "Reference text: Alvesson, M. and Deetz, S. (2000) Doing Critical Management Research. London: Sage. Alvesson, M. and Karreman, D. (2000) ‘Taking the Linguistic Turn in Organizational Research: Challenges, Responses, Consequences’, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 36: 136–68. Amernic, J. and Craig, R. (2006) CEO Speak: The Language of Corporate Leadership. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. Amernic, J., Craig, R. and Tourish D. (2007) ‘The Charismatic Leader as Pedagogue, Physician, Architect, Commander, and Saint: Five Master Metaphors in Jack Welch’s Letters to Stockholders of General Electric’, Human Relations 60: 1839–72. Benoit, W. (1995) Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies: A Theory of Image Restoration Strategies. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Blanchard, K. and McBride, M. (2004) The One-Minute Apology: A Powerful Way to Make Things Better. New York, NY: HarperCollins. Blum-Kulka, S. and Olshtain, E. (1984) ‘Requests and Apologies: A Cross-Cultural Study of Speech Act Realization Patterns (CCSARP)’, Applied Linguistics 5: 196–213. Brooks, R. L. (1999) ‘Age of Apology’, in R. L. Brooks (ed.) When Sorry Isn’t Enough: The Controversy Over Apologies and Reparations for Human Injustice, pp. 3–12. New York, NY: New York University Press. Brown, P. and Levinson, S. (1978) ‘Universals in Language Usage: Politeness Phenomena’, in E. N. Goody (ed.) Questions and Politeness, pp. 56–310. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Cody, M. J. and Dunn, D. (2007) ‘Accounts’, in B. Whaley and W. Samter (eds) Explaining Communication: Contemporary Theories and Exemplars, pp. 44–127. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Cornelissen, J. (2006) ‘Metaphor and the Dynamics of Knowledge in Organizational Theory: A Case Study of the Organizational Identity Metaphor’, Journal of Management Studies 43: 683–709. Darby, B. W. and Schlenker, B. R. (1982) ‘Children’s Reactions to Apologies’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 43: 742–53. De Cremer, D. and Schouten, B. C. (2008) ‘When Apologies for Injustice Matter: The Role of Respect’, European Psychologist 13: 239–47. Engerman, S. (2009) ‘Apologies, Regrets, and Reparations’, European Review 17: 593–610. Exline, J. J., Deshea, L. and Holeman, V. T. (2007) ‘Is Apology Worth the Risk? Predictors, Outcomes, and Ways to Avoid Regret’, Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 26: 479–504. Fairclough, N. (1992) Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge: Polity Press. Fairhurst, G. (2007) Discursive Leadership. London: Sage. Fairhurst, G. (2009) ‘Considering Context in Discursive Leadership Research’, Human Relations 62: 1607–33. Frantz, C. M. and Bennigson, C. (2005) ‘Better Late than Early: The Influence of Timing on Apology Effectiveness’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 41: 201–7. Friedman, H. H. (2006) ‘The Power of Remorse and Apology’, Journal of College and Character VII. Available at: http://collegevalues.org/pdfs/power{\%}20of{\%}20remorse{\%}20formatted{\%}20final.pdf (accessed 24 March 2009). Gabriel, Y. (2000) Storytelling in Organisations: Stories, Fantasies, and Subjectivity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gass, R. and Seiter, J. (2009) ‘Persuasion and Compliance Gaining’, in W. Eadie (ed.) 21st Century Communication: A Reference Handbook, pp. 156–65. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Gee, P. (2005) An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method, 2nd edn. London: Routledge. Goei, R., Roberto A., Meyer, G. and Carlyle, K. (2007) ‘The Effects of Favor and Apology on Compliance’, Communication Research 34: 575–95. Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959. Goffman, E. (1971) Relations in Public. New York, NY: Basic Books. Harris S., Grainger, K. and Mullany, L. (2006) ‘The Pragmatics of Political Apologies’, Discourse Society 17: 715–37. Hearit, K. M. (2006) Crisis Management By Apology: Corporate Response to Allegations of Wrongdoing. London: Routledge. Heracleous, L. (2006) ‘A Tale of Three Discourses: The Dominant, the Strategic and the Marginalized’, Journal of Management Studies 43: 1059–87. Heracleous, L. (2004) ‘Interpretivist Approaches to Organisational Discourse’, in D. Grant, C.Hardy, C. Oswick and L. Putnam (eds) The Sage Handbook of Organizational Discourse, pp.175–92. London: Sage. Hodgins, H. S. and Liebeskind, E. (2003) ‘Apology versus Defense: Antecedents and Consequences’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 39: 297–316. Howard-Hassmann, R. E. and Gibney, M. (2008) ‘Introduction: Apologies and the West’, in M. Gibney, R. E. Howard-Hassmann, J. M. Coicaud and N. Steiner (eds) The Age of Apology: Facing up the Past, pp. 1–12. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Johnson, B. (2009) ‘Sir Fred Goodwin and Harriet Harman—Pensions and Bonuses Row’, Daily Telegraph Available at: http://www.boris-johnson.com/2009/03/03/bankers-pension-row-masks-real-issue/ (accessed 13 March 2009). Kampf, Z. (2009) ‘Public (non-) Apologies: The Discourse of Minimizing Responsibility’, Journal of Pragmatics. Available at: doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2008.11.007 (accessed 13 March 2009). Kanter, R. (2009) Three Little Words Every Leader Needs To Learn. Available at: http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/kanter/2009/05/three-little-words-every-leade.html?cm_mmc=npv-_-LISTSERV-_-MAY_2009-_-LEADERSHIP1 (accessed 27 May 2009). Kilduff, M. and Kelemen, M. (2004) ‘Deconstructing Discourse’, in D. Grant, C. Hardy, C. Oswick and L. Putnam (eds) The Sage Handbook of Organizational Discourse, pp. 259–72. London: Sage. Kim, P. H., Ferrin, D. L., Cooper, C. D. and Dirks, K. T. (2004) ‘Removing the Shadow of Suspicion: The Effects of Apology versus Denial for Repairing Competence- versus Integrity-Based Trust Violations’, Journal of Applied Psychology 89: 104–18. Kramer-Moore, D. and Moore, M. (2003) ‘Pardon Me for Breathing: Seven Types of Apology’, A Review of General Semantics 60: 160–9. Krauze, A. (1998) ‘Never Apologize, Never Explain’, The New Statesman (UK), May 29: 4. Krull, D. S., Loy, M. H., Lin, J., Wang, C. F., Chen, S. and Zhao, X. (1999) ‘The Fundamental Attribution Error: Correspondence Bias in Individualist and Collectivist Cultures’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 25: 1208–19. Lakoff, R. (2001) ‘Nine Ways of Looking at Apologies: The Necessity for Interdisciplinary Theory and Method in Discourse Analysis’, in D. Schriffin, D. Tannen and H. Hamilton (eds) The Handbook of Discourse Analysis, pp.199–214. Oxford: Blackwell. Lanchester, J. (2009) ‘It’s Finished’, London Review of Books, Available at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n10/print/lanc01_.html (accessed 29 May 2009). Lazare, A. (2004) On Apology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Lazowski, L. E. (1987) ‘Speakers’ Nonverbal Expressions of Emotion as Moderators of Listeners’ Reactions to Disclosures of Self Harm and Social Harm’, unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1987. Liu, H. (2010) ‘When Leaders Fail’, Management Communication Quarterly 24: 232–59. L{\"o}wenheim, N. (2009) ‘A Haunted Past: Requesting Forgiveness for Wrongdoing in International Relations’, Review of International Studies 35: 531–55. Lyons, J. (2009) ‘Pathetic Apologies from Banker Chiefs and Pictures of Their Luxury Homes’, Daily Mirror. Available at: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2009/02/11/pathetic-apologies-from-banker-chiefs-and-pictures-of-their-luxury-homes-115875–21113955/ (accessed 27 May 2009). Macleod, L. H. (2008) A Time for Apologies: The Legal And Ethical Implications Of Apologies in Civil Cases. Cornwall Public Inquiry: Phase 2 Research and Policy Paper, 2008. Available at: http://www.enquetecornwall.ca/en/healing/research/pdf/Macleod_Apologies.pdf (accessed 24 March 2009). Meier, A. J. (1998) ‘Apologies: What Do We Know?’, International Journal of Applied Linguistics 8: 215–31. Meier, A. J. (2004) ‘Conflict and the Power of Apologies’, PhiN (Philologie im Netz) 30: 1–17. Available at: http://www.fu-berlin.de/phin/phin30/p30t1.htm. (accessed 31 March 2009). Metts, S. and Grohskopf, E. (2003) ‘Impression Management: Goals, Strategies and Skills’, in J. Greene and B. Burleson (eds) Handbook of Communication and Social Interaction Skills, pp. 357–401. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Miller, D. and Ross, M. (1975) ‘Self-serving Biases in the Attribution of Causality: Fact of Fiction?’, Psychological Bulletin 82: 213–25. Mills, P. (Fall, 2001) ‘The New Culture of Apology’, Dissent, Fall. 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year = "2010",
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Interpretations of CEO public apologies for the banking crisis: Attributions of credit, blame and responsibility. / Hargie, Owen; Stapleton, Karyn; Tourish, Dennis.

In: Organization, Vol. 17, No. 6, 18.10.2010, p. 721-742.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

TY - JOUR

T1 - Interpretations of CEO public apologies for the banking crisis: Attributions of credit, blame and responsibility

AU - Hargie, Owen

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N1 - Reference text: Alvesson, M. and Deetz, S. (2000) Doing Critical Management Research. London: Sage. Alvesson, M. and Karreman, D. (2000) ‘Taking the Linguistic Turn in Organizational Research: Challenges, Responses, Consequences’, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 36: 136–68. Amernic, J. and Craig, R. (2006) CEO Speak: The Language of Corporate Leadership. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. Amernic, J., Craig, R. and Tourish D. (2007) ‘The Charismatic Leader as Pedagogue, Physician, Architect, Commander, and Saint: Five Master Metaphors in Jack Welch’s Letters to Stockholders of General Electric’, Human Relations 60: 1839–72. Benoit, W. (1995) Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies: A Theory of Image Restoration Strategies. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Blanchard, K. and McBride, M. (2004) The One-Minute Apology: A Powerful Way to Make Things Better. New York, NY: HarperCollins. Blum-Kulka, S. and Olshtain, E. (1984) ‘Requests and Apologies: A Cross-Cultural Study of Speech Act Realization Patterns (CCSARP)’, Applied Linguistics 5: 196–213. Brooks, R. L. (1999) ‘Age of Apology’, in R. L. Brooks (ed.) When Sorry Isn’t Enough: The Controversy Over Apologies and Reparations for Human Injustice, pp. 3–12. New York, NY: New York University Press. Brown, P. and Levinson, S. (1978) ‘Universals in Language Usage: Politeness Phenomena’, in E. N. Goody (ed.) Questions and Politeness, pp. 56–310. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Cody, M. J. and Dunn, D. (2007) ‘Accounts’, in B. Whaley and W. Samter (eds) Explaining Communication: Contemporary Theories and Exemplars, pp. 44–127. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Cornelissen, J. (2006) ‘Metaphor and the Dynamics of Knowledge in Organizational Theory: A Case Study of the Organizational Identity Metaphor’, Journal of Management Studies 43: 683–709. Darby, B. W. and Schlenker, B. R. (1982) ‘Children’s Reactions to Apologies’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 43: 742–53. De Cremer, D. and Schouten, B. C. (2008) ‘When Apologies for Injustice Matter: The Role of Respect’, European Psychologist 13: 239–47. Engerman, S. (2009) ‘Apologies, Regrets, and Reparations’, European Review 17: 593–610. Exline, J. J., Deshea, L. and Holeman, V. T. (2007) ‘Is Apology Worth the Risk? Predictors, Outcomes, and Ways to Avoid Regret’, Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 26: 479–504. Fairclough, N. (1992) Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge: Polity Press. Fairhurst, G. (2007) Discursive Leadership. London: Sage. Fairhurst, G. (2009) ‘Considering Context in Discursive Leadership Research’, Human Relations 62: 1607–33. Frantz, C. M. and Bennigson, C. (2005) ‘Better Late than Early: The Influence of Timing on Apology Effectiveness’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 41: 201–7. Friedman, H. H. (2006) ‘The Power of Remorse and Apology’, Journal of College and Character VII. Available at: http://collegevalues.org/pdfs/power%20of%20remorse%20formatted%20final.pdf (accessed 24 March 2009). Gabriel, Y. (2000) Storytelling in Organisations: Stories, Fantasies, and Subjectivity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gass, R. and Seiter, J. (2009) ‘Persuasion and Compliance Gaining’, in W. Eadie (ed.) 21st Century Communication: A Reference Handbook, pp. 156–65. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Gee, P. (2005) An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method, 2nd edn. London: Routledge. Goei, R., Roberto A., Meyer, G. and Carlyle, K. (2007) ‘The Effects of Favor and Apology on Compliance’, Communication Research 34: 575–95. Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959. Goffman, E. (1971) Relations in Public. New York, NY: Basic Books. Harris S., Grainger, K. and Mullany, L. (2006) ‘The Pragmatics of Political Apologies’, Discourse Society 17: 715–37. Hearit, K. M. (2006) Crisis Management By Apology: Corporate Response to Allegations of Wrongdoing. London: Routledge. Heracleous, L. (2006) ‘A Tale of Three Discourses: The Dominant, the Strategic and the Marginalized’, Journal of Management Studies 43: 1059–87. Heracleous, L. (2004) ‘Interpretivist Approaches to Organisational Discourse’, in D. Grant, C.Hardy, C. Oswick and L. Putnam (eds) The Sage Handbook of Organizational Discourse, pp.175–92. London: Sage. Hodgins, H. S. and Liebeskind, E. (2003) ‘Apology versus Defense: Antecedents and Consequences’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 39: 297–316. Howard-Hassmann, R. E. and Gibney, M. (2008) ‘Introduction: Apologies and the West’, in M. Gibney, R. E. Howard-Hassmann, J. M. Coicaud and N. Steiner (eds) The Age of Apology: Facing up the Past, pp. 1–12. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Johnson, B. (2009) ‘Sir Fred Goodwin and Harriet Harman—Pensions and Bonuses Row’, Daily Telegraph Available at: http://www.boris-johnson.com/2009/03/03/bankers-pension-row-masks-real-issue/ (accessed 13 March 2009). Kampf, Z. (2009) ‘Public (non-) Apologies: The Discourse of Minimizing Responsibility’, Journal of Pragmatics. Available at: doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2008.11.007 (accessed 13 March 2009). Kanter, R. (2009) Three Little Words Every Leader Needs To Learn. Available at: http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/kanter/2009/05/three-little-words-every-leade.html?cm_mmc=npv-_-LISTSERV-_-MAY_2009-_-LEADERSHIP1 (accessed 27 May 2009). Kilduff, M. and Kelemen, M. (2004) ‘Deconstructing Discourse’, in D. Grant, C. Hardy, C. Oswick and L. Putnam (eds) The Sage Handbook of Organizational Discourse, pp. 259–72. London: Sage. Kim, P. H., Ferrin, D. L., Cooper, C. D. and Dirks, K. T. (2004) ‘Removing the Shadow of Suspicion: The Effects of Apology versus Denial for Repairing Competence- versus Integrity-Based Trust Violations’, Journal of Applied Psychology 89: 104–18. Kramer-Moore, D. and Moore, M. (2003) ‘Pardon Me for Breathing: Seven Types of Apology’, A Review of General Semantics 60: 160–9. Krauze, A. (1998) ‘Never Apologize, Never Explain’, The New Statesman (UK), May 29: 4. Krull, D. S., Loy, M. H., Lin, J., Wang, C. F., Chen, S. and Zhao, X. (1999) ‘The Fundamental Attribution Error: Correspondence Bias in Individualist and Collectivist Cultures’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 25: 1208–19. Lakoff, R. (2001) ‘Nine Ways of Looking at Apologies: The Necessity for Interdisciplinary Theory and Method in Discourse Analysis’, in D. Schriffin, D. Tannen and H. Hamilton (eds) The Handbook of Discourse Analysis, pp.199–214. Oxford: Blackwell. Lanchester, J. (2009) ‘It’s Finished’, London Review of Books, Available at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n10/print/lanc01_.html (accessed 29 May 2009). Lazare, A. (2004) On Apology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Lazowski, L. E. (1987) ‘Speakers’ Nonverbal Expressions of Emotion as Moderators of Listeners’ Reactions to Disclosures of Self Harm and Social Harm’, unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1987. Liu, H. (2010) ‘When Leaders Fail’, Management Communication Quarterly 24: 232–59. Löwenheim, N. (2009) ‘A Haunted Past: Requesting Forgiveness for Wrongdoing in International Relations’, Review of International Studies 35: 531–55. Lyons, J. (2009) ‘Pathetic Apologies from Banker Chiefs and Pictures of Their Luxury Homes’, Daily Mirror. Available at: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2009/02/11/pathetic-apologies-from-banker-chiefs-and-pictures-of-their-luxury-homes-115875–21113955/ (accessed 27 May 2009). Macleod, L. H. 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PY - 2010/10/18

Y1 - 2010/10/18

N2 - This article analyses the public testimony of four banking CEOs to the Banking Crisis Inquiry of the Treasury Committee of the UK House of Commons in 2009. Utilizing a discursive and interpretive approach, we explore how they attributed responsibility and blame for the crisis through the medium of public apologies. A number of taxonomies of apology are employed to provide an interpretive framework for the analysis. We conclude that the CEO discourse is characterized by expressions of regret, attempts to articulate alignment with others affected by the crisis and dissociation from the events being scrutinized, in order to avoid direct culpability for the crisis and invoke instead the spectre of impersonal global events which mitigates personal responsibility. We therefore characterize the discourse studied as an example of apology avoidance, and consider the constraints on apology which senior CEOs evidently feel they face.

AB - This article analyses the public testimony of four banking CEOs to the Banking Crisis Inquiry of the Treasury Committee of the UK House of Commons in 2009. Utilizing a discursive and interpretive approach, we explore how they attributed responsibility and blame for the crisis through the medium of public apologies. A number of taxonomies of apology are employed to provide an interpretive framework for the analysis. We conclude that the CEO discourse is characterized by expressions of regret, attempts to articulate alignment with others affected by the crisis and dissociation from the events being scrutinized, in order to avoid direct culpability for the crisis and invoke instead the spectre of impersonal global events which mitigates personal responsibility. We therefore characterize the discourse studied as an example of apology avoidance, and consider the constraints on apology which senior CEOs evidently feel they face.

U2 - 10.1177/1350508410367840

DO - 10.1177/1350508410367840

M3 - Article

VL - 17

SP - 721

EP - 742

JO - Organization

T2 - Organization

JF - Organization

SN - 1350-5084

IS - 6

ER -